Category Archive: Times of Israel

German far-right hosting lectures by Nazi veterans, security agency warns

Report says some 60 events, featuring six former Waffen-SS and Hitler youth members, were held last year

Former SS officer Karl Münter has justified his units massacre of 86 French civilians during the Second World War and now delivers lectures to German Neo-Nazi groups. (YouTube screenshot)

Former SS officer Karl Münter has justified his units massacre of 86 French civilians during the Second World War and now delivers lectures to German Neo-Nazi groups. (YouTube screenshot)

German neo-Nazis are hosting Waffen-SS and Hitler youth veterans as inspirational speakers in an attempt to radicalize young people, Germany’s domestic security agency warned in a recent report.

According to German news magazine Focus, which gained access to the classified document by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, around 60 such meetings were held last year, featuring around six “zeitzeugen,” or historical witnesses.

The security agency warned against the “ideology-forming function” of the meetings, which are intended to legitimize the war actions of the German Wehrmacht as “a defensive struggle of the German people.”

Neo-Nazi organization The Third Path, one of the groups organizing the events, was cited as describing the significance of such talks by saying that “our forefathers have made it clear to us … it is no use just to name the evil [you have to] to fight it and to eliminate the danger to your own people.”

German Neo-Nazis have made extensive use of social media in promoting these talks, which have been given by figures such as SS veterans Klaus Grotjahn and Richard Neubrech, both of whom are in their early nineties.

All of the veterans appear to be unrepentant supporters of Nazism. One of them, 96-year-old SS Panzer veteran Karl Münter, made waves earlier this year when he justified his unit’s massacre of 86 civilians, including children, in France during the war.

Swedish neo-Nazis disrupt exhibition of Holocaust survivors’ portraits

Nordic Resistance Movement tries to block visitors from viewing the ‘Fading Stories – pass them on’ exhibit, enter premises and shout Holocaust is a ‘myth’

Illustrative: Supporters of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement hold flags during a demonstration at the Kungsholmstorg square in Stockholm, Sweden on August 25, 2018. (Fredrik Persson/Getty Images/AFP)

Illustrative: Supporters of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement hold flags during a demonstration at the Kungsholmstorg square in Stockholm, Sweden on August 25, 2018. (Fredrik Persson/Getty Images/AFP)

Neo-Nazis in Sweden blocked the entrance to an exhibition of portraits of Holocaust survivors and intimidated visitors already viewing the display.

In the incident Tuesday in the southern city of Visby, several men from the Nordic Resistance Movement gathered outside the venue displaying the exhibition “Fading Stories – pass them on” by the Raoul Wallenberg Academy and photographer Sanna Sjosward.

In this week’s incident, the men tried to block the entrance but one woman pushed passed them, leading them to follow her inside.

“Three Nazis followed and also went into the room,” she told Expressen. “Inside they yelled “F***ing myths.”

Police arrived at the scene but did not arrest the neo-Nazis, who left the premises.

“It was unpleasant. It was very clear that they were here intimidate,” another witness told Expressen.

In 2015 and 2017, skinheads twice disrupted lectures in Swedish schools by Holocaust survivors.

Germany extends Holocaust compensation to survivor spouses

New York-based advocacy group successfully lobbies German government to continue payments to 30,000 elderly

Holocaust survivors attend a ceremony at the Mishan home for the elderly in Tel Aviv as Israel marks annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. May 04, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Holocaust survivors attend a ceremony at the Mishan home for the elderly in Tel Aviv as Israel marks annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. May 04, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

BERLIN (AP) — The organization that handles claims on behalf of Jews who suffered under the Nazis said Tuesday that Germany has agreed to extend compensation to their surviving spouses and to increase other payments, taking the total to be paid out in 2020 to around $1 billion.

Until now, pension payments to Holocaust survivors had been stopped upon their death, but the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany said Berlin has now agreed to continue survivor pensions for nine months after a death to the spouse.

“We have survivors who have been just getting by for many years,” Schneider said in a telephone interview from New York. “This extra nine months of income gives a cushion for the family of the survivor to figure out how to deal with their new circumstances.”

Illustrative: Members of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims in Luxembourg for the signing of the Reparations Agreement between the German Federal Republic, the State of Israel, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims, in 1952. Among those pictured is Benjamin Ferencz (second row from the front, second from the left). (Ben Ferencz/USHMM)

The Claims Conference carries out continuous negotiations with the German government to expand categories of people eligible for compensation for suffering and losses resulting from persecution by the Nazis. Since 1952, Germany has paid more than $80 billion.

The Claims Conference established its own fund in 1963 to also aid so-called Righteous Gentiles — non-Jews who helped Jews survive the Holocaust — and this year the German government agreed to help fund those payments.

Schneider said there are some 277 Righteous Gentiles still alive today, whose average age is 91, who have indicated they need financial assistance.

“These are non-Jews who risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews during the Holocaust. They literally put their lives at stake to save others,” Schneider said. “Every one of these people should live with the greatest of dignity, so it was important for us to ensure an ongoing funding stream.”

In other negotiations, Germany agreed to increase social welfare service funding for survivors by 44 million euros ($50 million) to a total of 524 million euros for 2020.

Those funds go to welfare groups that help Holocaust survivors with a range of services, including psychological counseling and in-home care. Some 132,000 victims of the Nazis currently receive such assistance.

The new payments for spouses of survivors would fall into this category but the costs have not yet been determined to add to the 2020 figure.

Germany has also agreed to increase direct compensation pensions, which are specific payments for a person’s particular suffering that go to some 60,000 survivors in 83 countries.

Pensions were increased from 415 euros a month to 446 euros retroactive to Jan. 1 as of Monday, then will increase to 513 euros a month on Jan. 1, 2020, and 580 euros a month on Jan. 1, 2021.

In all, the Claims Conference expects to distribute 340 million euros in direct compensation pensions in 2020 — a total of 864 million from Germany when combined with the social welfare payments.

Germany to return painting stolen by Nazis to Italy

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to travel to Florence where he will hand over ‘Vase of Flowers’ by Dutch artist Jan van Huysum to Uffizi Gallery

In this photo made available on January 1, 2019, Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi Gallery, poses for a photo as he holds onto a copy of a still-life "Vase of Flowers," by Dutch artist Jan van Huysum, with writing in red reading "stolen," inside the Uffizi gallery, in Florence, Italy. (Uffizi Gallery press office via AP)

In this photo made available on January 1, 2019, Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi Gallery, poses for a photo as he holds onto a copy of a still-life “Vase of Flowers,” by Dutch artist Jan van Huysum, with writing in red reading “stolen,” inside the Uffizi gallery, in Florence, Italy. (Uffizi Gallery press office via AP)

Germany said Saturday it will return to Italy a painting by Dutch artist Jan van Huysum that was stolen by Nazi troops during World War II.

The government said in a statement that Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero will travel to Florence soon to hand the still-life “Vase of Flowers” back to the Uffizi Gallery.

The oil painting, a still-life which measures 47×35 cm (18×14 inches), had been part of the Pitti Palace collection in Florence from 1824 until the outbreak of World War II. It was stolen by German troops and didn’t surface again until after Germany’s reunification.

“Vase of Flowers” by Jan van Huysum. (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

After being shipped to Germany the work’s whereabouts remained unknown until 1991, after Germany was reunified.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the family that currently possesses the painting would be compensated.

Van Huysum was a well-known specialist of still-life paintings. In January Schmidt appealed to Berlin asking that the painting be returned and saying at the time that until it is “the wounds of the Second World War and Nazi terror will not be healed.”

In the meantime, a black and white copy of “Flower Vase” was hung at the Uffizi Gallery, with the word “stolen” in English, German, and Italian on it.

A brief explanation tells visitors that the work was stolen by Nazi soldiers in 1944 and is now in a German private collection.

At Auschwitz, an exhibit takes an unprecedented look at religion and survival

‘Through the Lens of Faith’ focuses on 21 survivors who discuss how their relationship with God and the divine evolved during and after their internment at the death camp

Auschwitz survivor Avraham Zelcer stares intently into the camera. His rolled-up sleeve reveals the number tattooed onto his left forearm over three-quarters of a century ago, when he was deported to the infamous concentration camp from his native Czechoslovakia. Although the camp was liberated on January 27, 1945, Zelcer did not return to his Jewish faith until a year later.

It is understandable that experiencing the horrors of Auschwitz could try one’s religious beliefs. The camp claimed over 1.1 million lives during World War II, including almost a million Jews. Yet some prisoners managed to hold onto their faith. Their story is told in an upcoming exhibit at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim, Poland, which will run through most of 2020, the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.

Over three years, Englander, the chair of the International Center of Photography, shot color photographs of each survivor while they were being interviewed by Lustiger Thaler, the chief curator of the Amud Aish Memorial Museum in Brooklyn, the first museum to address the Holocaust from a faith-based perspective. Israeli-American Libeskind — a Polish-born son of Holocaust refugees, whose projects include the Ground Zero redesign and the Jewish Museum Berlin — created steel panels to encase the photos, with glass sections displaying testimony from the interviews.

Of the 21 survivors, 11 are women and 10 are men. (Poignantly, two of the 21 have died since being interviewed.) They include 18 Jews, two Polish Catholics and one Sinti, or Romani. The number of Jews reflects the numerical value of the Hebrew word “chai,” or “life.”

A profile of Avraham Zelcer as part of ‘Through the Lens of Faith,’ running through 2020 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim, Poland. (Courtesy Henri Lustiger Thaler)

“It’s really an interfaith exhibit, trying to understand the role of faith and religion for survivors able to get through Auschwitz,” Lustiger Thaler said.

Some, like Zelcer, struggled to return to their faith. Others, like Lea Friedler of Israel, said that God was working in the camp to keep them alive through a combination of miracle, blessings and messengers.

Lustiger Thaler said that “religion was, one could assume, important to the majority of people deported to Auschwitz,” including Jews, Polish Catholics and Sinti/Romani. He added that the exhibit represents “the first time this element of faith is being incorporated, and the first time it’s going to be in front of the gates of Auschwitz.”

A profile of Lea Friedler as part of ‘Through the Lens of Faith,’ running through 2020 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim, Poland. (Courtesy Henri Lustiger Thaler)

‘Invisible faces’

Extending for 25 meters, the exhibit is situated on both sides of a path off the route leading to the memorial and museum. The vertical steel panels evoke the stripes of a concentration camp prisoner’s uniform, while their mirrored exteriors reflect the freedom of the wider world outside.

The location of the exhibit is “really where all people disembark when they are about to enter the camp itself,” Libeskind said. “It’s where people first encounter where they are, a large gathering point just before the entrance to the actual site… Of course, it does not negate that every place [in Auschwitz] is a place of death.”

As he noted, there is “the question of other invisible faces, those who did not survive, 99.99 percent of the story.”

‘Through the Lens of Faith,’ an exhibit running through 2020 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim, Poland. (Courtesy Daniel Libeskind)

The Auschwitz death toll includes an estimated 960,000 Jews, 74,000 non-Jewish Poles and 21,000 Sinti, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Lustiger Thaler, Englander and Libeskind all lost family members in the Holocaust — including members of Lustiger Thaler’s family who died at Auschwitz. (His mother was liberated at Bergen-Belsen.) The camp’s victims also include German-Jewish artist Felix Nussbaum, whom Libeskind memorialized in one of his earliest projects, the Felix Nussbaum Haus in Osnabrück, Germany.

“The Felix Nussbaum Haus made me realize that when people say 6 million Jews were murdered [in the Holocaust], I realized you cannot identify with, you don’t understand, what 6 million means,” Libeskind said.

However, he added, the Nussbaum Haus showed “how the power of a single individual, a single story, told me beyond any statistic with a number of zeros after it” — just as the “few portraits” of the Auschwitz exhibit are “almost bigger than the story you read in an encyclopedia or book that can’t possibly connect you.”

“We cannot identify with one million, one thousand, one hundred people,” Libeskind said. “We might [identify] with one [person], 18, 20, 30.”

‘Through the Lens of Faith,’ an exhibit running through 2020 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim, Poland. (Courtesy Daniel Libeskind)

Adding a dimension

“Through the Lens of Faith” began as a concept that Lustiger Thaler successfully pitched to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. He brought Englander on board for the interviews with survivors over the next few years across a variety of locations, including New York, Florida, Israel, Poland and Canada.

They were children and young adults when they arrived at Auschwitz, with the youngest four years old and the oldest 20. Now, located through survivor networks at Aish Amud and through the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, they ranged from ages 80 to 102, with most in their 90s and many, including Friedler and Zelcer, having raised large families.

Museum curator Henri Lustiger Thaler. (Courtesy)

“These are very aged individuals,” Lustiger Thaler said. “We have captured the last living survivors of Auschwitz — a very important metaphor for the 75th commemoration [of liberation].”

Lustiger Thaler had conducted hundreds of previous interviews with survivors for Amud Aish. He said that Englander brought a new aspect to the work, “a whole other dimension — the image.”

Englander recalled facing “agonizing” decisions over the photoshoots: “Black and white? Standing? Sitting? Face shots?” She said that she “looked at tons of books, portraits in Auschwitz,” and “discussed it with a lot of people — rabbis, scholars, philosophers.”

She decided on “very colorful” portraits taken with her digital Canon 5D Mark IV.

“All of them were dressed in their best Shabbat clothes or wedding clothes,” she said. “They looked really handsome and beautiful… I wanted them to be proud. They are heroes.”

And, Englander noted, “These are not victims. They’re gorgeous people with hope, resilience, appreciation, kindness,” with most of them urging people to be kind to each other. “I learned so much from them,” she said.

So did Lustiger Thaler.

“The question is, how does that culture of faith interact with what they were experiencing, the deathworld they walked into,” he said. “There were a lot of good questions I posed to survivors around the relationship of faith individually to them and also faith collectively with other Jews.”

Photographer Caryl Englander. (Courtesy)

Searing impressions

Survivors Zelcer and Friedler both recalled arriving at Auschwitz on the holiday of Shavuot. Each was 16 years old. Friedler arrived with her mother and two orphans. A fellow prisoner told her mother, “Stay with your daughter.” Friedler said this was divine intervention that saved the lives of her and her mother.

“I remember every single interview of the 21 very clearly,” Lustiger Thaler said. “Each one gave me another viewpoint on how to understand faith and the Holocaust, and the complex relationship between the two.”

It’s a relationship that historically has not received much attention, according to exhibit organizers. (There is also a nonreligious side to the Auschwitz narrative; its dead include 15,000 Soviet POWs, and the camp was liberated by the Red Army.) Lustiger Thaler said that as recently as the 1990s, while Orthodox accounts of the Holocaust appeared in published memoirs and stories, they were absent from the larger memorial world, which he describes as secular.

Architect Daniel Libeskind. (Stefan Ruiz)

Englander said that while the Holocaust brought suffering and brutality to all of its victims, it might bring “a different, additional layer to a religious population,” such as a man whose peyos, or sidelocks, were shaved off, or a “very modest” woman forced to take a shower or use a toilet in the presence of a male guard with a machine gun.

She added that religious people who survived the Holocaust and said that God had a purpose for them were mocked by others who asked, “What God could do that to you?”

“If they committed to have new families, as some religious people did — Hasidic, Orthodox, Haredi, non-Orthodox religious — they held back their stories,” Englander said, adding that not only did they refrain from telling the next generation, they also did not share their accounts with famous Holocaust researchers such as Steven Spielberg.

“They could tell right away [the researchers] had no connection with how they felt,” Englander said, “being willing to die to hide tefillin [phylacteries] or giving [up] a piece of bread so they could have matza for the haggada for Passover.”

She called these “nuances really not seen before” in Holocaust testimony.

Libeskind recalls multiple members of his family who drew upon their religion to help them survive the Holocaust. Among them was an uncle from his mother’s side who endured Auschwitz, immigrated to Mandatory Palestine, remained in the State of Israel and founded a devout Hasidic family. Libeskind also mentioned his father’s only sister, a survivor who remarried; both bride and groom had lost children in Auschwitz.

‘Through the Lens of Faith,’ an exhibit running through 2020 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim, Poland. (Courtesy Daniel Libeskind)

“Strangely enough, I never thought about people I knew who survived, who did survive, and continued through their faith as Jews,” Libeskind said. “It interested me. I never thought about faith as a way to survive.”

“It’s something I was very interested in pursuing with the installation. The installation is a space, a place of encounter, between what you know and what you don’t know,” he said.

For Lustiger Thaler, it’s a different kind of mixture of opposites that make the exhibit so powerful.

“It will speak about freedom at the end of it — freedom, resilience, hope emerging from the deathworld, a life-negating place, this deathworld of Auschwitz,” he said, “a combination between meeting the holy in the space of the profane.”

‘Don’t mention the Jews’: How wartime BBC failed to issue Holocaust warnings

75 years after the Nazis marched into Hungary, ToI investigates whether Britain’s state broadcaster said too little, too late about the Final Solution

Illustrative: Anthony Eden opens an Organization for European Economic Co-operation council meeting in Paris, circa 1948-1957. (Public domain)

Illustrative: Anthony Eden opens an Organization for European Economic Co-operation council meeting in Paris, circa 1948-1957. (Public domain)

LONDON — On December 17, 1942, Britain’s foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, rose from his seat in the House of Commons and revealed that the Nazis were now carrying out Hitler’s oft-repeated threat to “exterminate the Jewish people in Europe.” He went on to condemn “this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination.”

After he had delivered the statement, which had been coordinated with other Allied governments, MPs stood in the chamber and observed a minute’s silence.

But there was a peculiar and troubling exception: the silence of the BBC’s broadcasts to Hungary concerning the fate of the Jews.

That silence was a deliberate policy. It is one, moreover, that remained in place right up to the moment that the Germans, rightly fearing that Hungary’s authoritarian ruler, Admiral Miklós Horthy, was about to abandon his allegiance to the Axis and switch sides, occupied the country 75 years ago this spring.

The position of Hungarian Jews had long been a precarious one. They were subject to a raft of domestic anti-Semitic laws and restrictions – the earliest of which long predated Hitler’s rise to power – and many died after around 50,000 men were conscripted in labor battalions and sent to the eastern front.

Hungarians were also complicit in other atrocities. Thousands of non-Hungarian Jews were handed over to the Nazis by Horthy’s regime and subsequently massacred in Ukraine in August 1941. Hungarian forces also murdered approximately 3,000 Jews and other civilians in Novi Sad, in northern Serbia, in January 1942.

But repeated German pressure to deport Hungarian Jews had hitherto been rebuffed by the government of then-prime minister Miklós Kállay. Indeed, when news of the Ukraine massacres reached Budapest, deportations were halted and five officers were court-martialed for the killings in Novi Sad. Thus, on the eve of the German occupation in March 1944, Hungary’s Jewish community was the largest – and last – in continental Europe to be mainly untouched by the Final Solution.

This photo provided by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shows Hungarian soldiers as they execute Serbians and Jews on Miletic Street in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, January 23, 1942. (AP Photo/Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade via United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

The BBC’s Hungarian Service finally broke its silence about the extermination of the Jews on March 24, 1944, five days after Hitler’s tanks rolled into Budapest. It then began to broadcast desperate appeals for Hungarians to aid the imperiled Jews, warnings about the justice which would meted out upon those who collaborated with the Nazis, and calls for resistance against the German occupiers.

“In the past, there were many people in Hungary who displayed their human feelings by assisting Jews and other victims of the Germans who fled to Hungary,” a March 24 broadcast suggested. “Today every Hungarian who helps the victims of persecution not only acts humanely, but he also serves his nation, because his deeds may be credited to his country by the United Nations at the final reckoning.”

It was, however, too late. Within weeks, the Nazis, aided and abetted by the Hungarian authorities, set in train the murder of nearly half a million Hungarian Jews.

So why had it taken the BBC so long to tell Hungarian Jews about the Final Solution, and why was its approach to Hungary in such stark contrast to that of other countries in Europe?

A strategic silence

The answer lies in a memo prepared two years prior by Britain’s foremost expert on Hungary, Prof. Carlile Aylmer Macartney. Macartney was a man from British Establishment central casting: a former diplomat in Vienna, secret service officer, Oxford academic and wartime adviser to the Foreign Office.

In early 1942, Macartney worked alongside the Political Warfare Executive, a government body which oversaw the BBC’s overseas broadcasts. Together, they devised a strategy for the BBC’s Hungarian Service. It aimed both to reduce Hungarian military support and supplies to Germany and “eventually to compel Germany to divert a certain number of troops to Hungary, either as a safeguard against disorders and sabotage, or as an occupying force.”

Illustrative: Arrow Cross and German troops in Budapest in October 1944. (Bundesarchiv bild)

In short, the British government, through the BBC, sought to drive a wedge between Nazi Germany and Hungary, and tie down Hitler’s forces in the east.

As Gabriel Milland, who has studied its approach towards the Final Solution, has argued: “The fundamental role of the BBC Hungarian Service … was as a weapon of political warfare.” But this posed a dilemma. “To secure influence it first had to achieve an audience and respond to their instincts,” he notes.

Macartney followed up this plan with a memo advising the BBC on what content might best appeal to those instincts, and what topics to avoid. Among the latter, according to Macartney, were: Communism; big business and capitalism; the aristocracy; liberalism and democracy; and “Jews in general.”

The subject of the Jews, Macartney argued, should simply not feature in broadcasts to Hungary: “We should not mention the Jews at all except to say that, on the one hand, we want a national Hungary, on the other hand, a tolerant Hungary – appeal to Hungary’s traditions real or imagined.”

Underpinning Macartney’s advice was what he called the Hungarian “floating vote.”

The “great majority” of Hungarians, he argued, were neither pro-Nazi nor pro-British. “The irreconcilables on either side are really very few, and include few Magyars [ethnic Hungarians] indeed: the irreconcilable pro-German group is mostly Swabian [referring to German-speaking Hungarians], the pro-British, Jewish.”

It was, he continued, “more important to gain the floating vote than to please the faithful supporters.” In order to gain a hearing in Hungary and thus help the Allied war effort, Macartney was arguing, the BBC needed to take into account the alleged anti-Semitism of much of the Hungarian populace.

Other BBC anti-Jewish policies

Prof. Frank Chalk speaks at the 99th Armenian Genocide Commemoration in Montreal, 2014. (YouTube)

Alerted to the existence of the memo in 2012 by Prof. Frank Chalk, director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University in Canada, BBC radio’s “Document” program decided to investigate.

Trawling the corporation’s archives, it revealed that Macartney’s strategy was not conjured up in a vacuum. Instead, it was a response to continuing concerns that the Hungarian Service was, in fact, too associated with Jews. A December 1939 internal BBC memo, for instance, detailed criticism the corporation had received that the service’s announcers had “Jewish-sounding voices” and that its six Hungarian staff were “purely or preponderantly Jewish.”

A further memo 18 months later showed that the critics had not let up. “One of the main criticisms of our broadcasts,” it reported, “has been on the ground of Jewish accents.” It was necessary, therefore, to bring in “a nucleus of Aryan voices.”

A minute of a meeting, attended by Macartney and others, to discuss the alleged shortcomings of the service, sarcastically stated: “At present the broadcasts were written and delivered,” it was felt, “by Hungarian bar-proppers to their fellow Jewish bar-proppers in Budapest and consequently were of very little use.” The present staff should be fired and material “more palatable to the mass of the Hungarian people” broadcast.

Macartney’s subsequent plan was assiduously followed by the Hungarian Service over the next two years, with the historian himself becoming a regular broadcaster. Delivered in Hungarian, his talks described life in Britain and offered analysis of the world situation. Crucially, he also commented on Hungary’s wartime policy. His talks, one Hungarian academic has suggested, “maintained a fine middle ground between supporting the Hungarian regime and criticizing it for pursuing … an overtly pro-German” foreign policy.

Regent of Hungary Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya (left) with Adolf Hitler, year unspecified (Wikimedia Commons)

But, as the BBC’s “Document” program also revealed, Macartney’s strategy – and the perception that he himself was too sympathetic to the Horthy regime – caused concern in government circles, disquiet among staff at the service, and anger among Hungarians living in Britain.

In August 1942, Robert Bruce Lockhart, the director-general of the PWE, weighed in.

“I’ve never been very happy about the general question of our propaganda policy towards Hungary,” Lockhart wrote to the head of the BBC Hungarian Service. “The picture of a pro-British Hungary has always been something of an optical delusion.” Macartney, he ordered, should be “given a rest from broadcasting.”

These concerns did not, however, appear to provoke a marked shift in tone or direction, even after Eden’s statement to parliament in December 1942. Indeed, the corporation’s official historian, Jean Seaton, admitted to “Document” that she’d never encountered any evidence in the BBC’s archives that this announcement had provoked an internal discussion on how the corporation might assist the effort to, in her words, “save the Jews of Europe.”

A warning unheeded

It is arguable, however, that the BBC owed a special responsibility towards Hungary’s Jews. The strategy it had adopted, albeit at the behest of the PWE, was predicated on forcing Hitler to send troops into Hungary. Such a move, it was known by 1942, would bring terrible consequences for Hungarian Jewry.

In October 1943, the Jewish Agency in London warned the Foreign Office that any defection by Horthy to the Allies at that time would provoke a German invasion. The result would be the “extermination of the last important body of Jewry left in Europe.”

But in his extensive research on the subject, Chalk has detected no sign that these concerns forced a rethink.

German and Hungarian soldiers transport arrested Jews to the Varosi theater in Budapest, October 1944. (Bundesarchiv bild)

“I have found no archival evidence,” he wrote, “that the British asked Hungary to delay its withdrawal from the alliance with Germany or that they took seriously into account saving the lives of Hungarian Jews.”

“British policy and the BBC’s Hungarian Service worked toward only one goal: to advance the cause of an Allied victory,” he wrote. For the British government, of course, that goal and bringing an end to the Final Solution were inseparable.

Thus, throughout the early months of 1944 before the German occupation, the Hungarian Service repeatedly urged acts of resistance and encouraged an uprising to increase pressure on the Horthy regime.

As Milland has exhaustively detailed, after the Germans marched into Hungary, the BBC began to pump out news bulletins and broadcasts underlining the imminent threat to Jews in the kingdom. On March 25, for instance, it ran comments by Roosevelt about war crimes and the need to protect the “hundreds of thousands of Jews who had found a safe haven from death in Hungary … and who were now threatened with annihilation.”

Hungarians could resist the Nazis, a broadcast the following day stated, by doing “their utmost to help all those other Hungarians or others who are persecuted by the Germans and their Hungarian agents.”

There were also insistent warnings about the post-war reckoning that would await those Hungarians who participated in what one broadcast called “the shedding of blood of innocent people.” Such individuals, it continued, would be “ruthlessly punished.” The PWE also instructed the Hungarian Service to run Roosevelt’s statement that those in the Hungarian authorities who participation in “racial persecution” would be held accountable for “war crimes.”

Broadcasts sought above all to appeal to Hungarian’s patriotism, linking that to the fate of the Jews, and offering pointed reminders of the heroic actions of the Danes. “What is at stake for Hungary is the reputation of its people, the question whether or not … in a community of free nations, the name of the country will be besmirched with [the] Yellow Patch of cowardice and pusillanimity,” suggested one.

German and Hungarian soldiers transport arrested Jews to the Varosi theater in Budapest, October 1944. (Bundesarchiv bild)

The Hungarian Service also attempted to carefully target its appeals. Religious figures, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, were deployed to deliver messages to the “Christian people of Hungary,” telling them that “Christian discipleship” demanded they do all in their power to assist persecuted Jews. Trade unionists were similarly given air time to appeal to workers in key industries, such as the railways.

More unanswered questions

Nonetheless, there remain difficult questions as to why the Hungarian Service, although making appeals on behalf of “persecuted” Jews, appears to have delayed reporting news of deportations, and certainly mass murder, when other BBC outlets were already doing so.

Indeed, Milland’s survey of the broadcasts suggests that it was not until July 1, 1944, that the Hungarian Service directly mentioned for the first time that deported Jews were being butchered at “the notorious German camp in Polish Galicia.”

Thereafter, explicit messages were broadcast. To Hungarian railway workers, a senior British trade unionist made a simple appeal: “Delay the ‘death-trains’! Help the Jews to their escape!”

There was a particularly cruel irony, however, that these appeals were broadcast shortly after Horthy – under intense pressure from the Catholic Church, the Allies, and neutral Sweden – defied the Germans and ordered a halt to the deportations.

What might account for the Hungarian Service’s delay in reporting the onset of mass murder? Even without confirmed reports, asks Milland, could not the BBC have simply used its knowledge of the fate that had befallen Jews in other countries the Nazis had occupied? But such a stance, he continues, would “have run counter to BBC policy of only broadcasting what was known to be absolutely true and confirmed – a crucial part of [its] strategy in securing an audience.”

Arrow Cross leader and German-installed prime minister of Hungary Ferenc Szalasi enters the presidential Sandor Palace, October 18, 1944. (Bundesarchiv bild)

The respite ordered by Horthy was, however, all too brief. In October, the Germans finally removed the unreliable regent after he had once again attempted to conclude an armistice with their enemies. The fascist Arrow Cross under Ferenc Szálasi, which shared Hitler’s desire to eliminate the approximately 200,000 Hungarian Jews who had thus far survived, was now installed in power. Deportations commenced and the Arrow Cross set about massacring Jews in Budapest. Again, however, the Hungarian Service went silent about the tragic events, unable to obtain the confirmations it required to broadcast news of them.

There remains a difficult, but ultimately unanswerable, question as to whether, had the BBC’s Hungarian Service acted differently, it could have helped to reduce the number of Jews the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators were able to murder. Historians are split, both on this question and the wider one of how much information Hungarian Jews anyway possessed.

“The odds are strong, given the authority of the BBC in the minds of Hungarian Jews, that explicit warnings specifically addressed to them would have broken down the psychological barriers immobilizing their defense mechanisms” wrote Chalk.

Uprisings and greater acts of resistance might have ensued, slowing the killings and tying down more German troops. “Very many Jews would have died in any case, but their deaths while resisting and seeking to escape would have had more meaning and the war would have ended sooner,” he said.

But, for Milland, “the simple answer” as to whether the BBC could have saved lives is “no.”

“Once Germany occupied Hungary, the Jews were its prisoners,” he wrote. “In this context both the potential and actual impact of the BBC on Hungarian Jewry was limited.” Indeed, he noted, the appeals it made to Hungarians to assist their Jewish neighbors largely went unheeded.

The late David Cesarani, one of the foremost experts on the Holocaust, took a similar stance. “It wasn’t the job of the BBC to warn Jews that the Nazis were coming to get them. The responsibility lay elsewhere. The BBC was doing everything it could to help win the war,” he told the “Document” program in 2012.

“Some could have built bunkers, hideaways, some could have tried to get false papers. But we’re talking about 750,000 people, surrounded by a hostile population, by countries either allied to the Nazis, or occupied by the Germans. There was nowhere to hide, nowhere to run,” he concluded.

How Hollywood idol Audrey Hepburn helped save Dutch Jews during the Holocaust

Veteran star chronicler Robert Matzen traces Hepburn’s roots in the Netherlands, her mother’s fleeting Nazi sympathies, and her covert activities against the occupying Nazi regime

Audrey Hepburn starred in a constellation of memorable roles, from Manhattan socialite Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” to Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.” The 1953 classic “Roman Holiday” — in which she portrayed Princess Ann, a royal exploring the Eternal City with Gregory Peck — earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. And Hepburn is among the select few to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award.

Yet her most important role is perhaps her least-known. It’s the story of a Dutch aristocrat, raised by parents with controversial political allegiances, who aided her country’s resistance to the Nazis while enduring tragedy and starvation — and, despite it all, becoming a prima ballerina en route to Hollywood stardom. It’s her real-life coming-of-age story, told in a new book, “Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II,” by Robert Matzen.

A veteran Hollywood chronicler, Matzen learned about Hepburn’s war years while researching his previous book, a biography of Jimmy Stewart, who had been a WWII fighter pilot before becoming the all-American star of such films as “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Some of Stewart’s men had been shot down over the Netherlands, and when Matzen visited the city of Arnhem, he learned Hepburn had lived there during the war. That sparked his next project, one that would bring to light Hepburn’s war experiences, which he called in an interview with The Times of Israel, “a side of Audrey that nobody knows.”

Audrey Hepburn, right, shown with Fred Zinneman and Rosalind Russell, left, in this April 10, 1967 photo taken at the 1967 Academy Award presentations. (AP Photo/ File)

According to the book, there were aspects of Hepburn’s early life that she wished to forget. Her Dutch mother, the Baroness Ella van Heemstra, met Hitler in the 1930s and wrote admiringly about him in British fascist publications — but changed her mind during the brutal Nazi occupation of the Netherlands from 1940 to 1945. (By contrast, the continuing Nazi sympathies of van Heemstra’s English ex-husband, Hepburn’s father Joseph Ruston, kept him jailed throughout the war.)

Audrey Hepburn’s mother Ella, Baroness van Heemstra, in the early 1930s. (Dotti Collection)

The baroness aided the Dutch Resistance after the Nazis executed Hepburn’s beloved uncle, Otto Ernst Gelder, Count van Limburg Stirum. Hepburn’s grief was so deep that she never mentioned her uncle by name afterward, Matzen said.

Hepburn also was affected by the larger tragedies that befell her nation, and she displayed heroism on behalf of individuals in danger. Volunteering for the resistance, she aided Jews in hiding, raising funds through dancing to keep them safe.

Despite these and others’ efforts, less than 25 percent of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Invited in 1958 to play the role of the most famous Dutch Holocaust victim in the film version of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” Hepburn found the subject too close to home and turned it down, although she met with Frank’s Holocaust survivor father, Otto Frank. According to the book, she also declined the role out of fears over what might happen if Ella’s past was plumbed.

Another trauma Hepburn did not wish to relive was the 1944 Allied defeat in the battles of Arnhem and Oosterbeek. After the execution of her uncle two years earlier, she and her mother had relocated from Arnhem to the village of Velp three miles away — close enough to hear the destruction of Hepburn’s former hometown.

Her family members risked their lives sheltering a British soldier, and she and her mother assisted as nurses. Nazi reprisals included rounding up Dutch women and girls to work in German kitchens; Hepburn was among those rounded up for what could have been a grim fate, but she escaped. Decades later, in 1976, she declined a role in the cinematic retelling of the battles, “A Bridge Too Far.”

In 1957, the stress of a day in Switzerland with Elfriede and Otto Frank is visible on Audrey Hepburn’s face. He had asked her to portray his daughter Anne Frank in an upcoming film; she will tell him that, for a variety of reasons, she can’t. (Eva Schloss, photographer; Anne Frank House)

Matzen sees his book as not only filling a gap in knowledge about Hepburn’s war years, but also explaining how they had a lifelong effect on her, including her work as a UNICEF ambassador who aided children affected by war.

He connects her suffering in the Dutch “Hunger Winter” of 1944-1945 with later health issues (she died an early death at age 63). Yet, he says, the overall message of the book is an inspiring story, one that he partly credits for it achieving bestseller status two weeks before it was released on April 15, less than a month prior to what would have been Hepburn’s 90th birthday.

The person behind the star

Hepburn was born Audrey Kathleen van Heemstra Ruston on May 4, 1929. Her family had aristocratic connections on both sides. Her Dutch grandfather, the Baron van Heemstra, was a former governor of the South American colony of Suriname, and a former mayor of Arnhem. Her English father claimed a royal pedigree through his 16th-century ancestor, James Hepburn, the third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Young Audrey, or Adriaantje, as she was known to her family, grew up shuttling between Belgium, England and the Netherlands. Her parents visited Germany with prominent British fascists (including Sir Oswald Mosley) and met Hitler at his Munich headquarters in 1935. Ella returned to Germany for the Nazi Party Congress later that year and praised Hitler in British fascist publications. The book states that Hepburn herself was never pro-German.

Five-year-old Audrey Hepburn poses with her aunt Meisje and uncle Otto during an extended 1935 stay in Oosterbeek while her parents met with Hitler. (Dotti Collection)

While Matzen’s low opinion of Ruston remained constant (he did not stay in contact with his daughter after he and Ella divorced), his views on Ella changed.

“When I got into the project, I thought of her as an evil character,” Matzen said. “I was afraid I was not going to understand her.”

However, input from Dotti about his grandmother softened the author’s opinion.

“If she were alive today, she would be like a goth, an artist wearing black,” Matzen said. “She rebelled against her parents, more than anything, any authority figure who told her to act a certain way. She had an inclination to act differently. You can see the shock value in her embrace of Adolf Hitler.”

Ella initially continued supporting the Nazis after they occupied the Netherlands. She developed a romance with a German official, and planned and performed in an evening of German-approved music in Arnhem in late 1941, in which her daughter and son Ian also performed. Ironically, Hepburn’s ballet teacher, Winja Marova, was Jewish and hid her identity from the occupiers.

Matzen calls Ella’s support of the Nazis during this period a path of least resistance that protected her children. Yet her other son Alex became an onderduiker, a member of the resistance who went into hiding. And the Nazis arrested her brother-in-law, Hepburn’s uncle Otto, a court prosecutor, for disobeying their policies. On August 15, 1942, he was executed in a mass killing with another relative, Baron Schimmelpenninck van der Oye.

Robert Matzen, author of ‘Dutch Girl,’ signing copies of the book, which quickly sold out, at the BookExpo trade show in New York, May 2019. (Courtesy)

A new chapter begins

Otto’s execution was “a turning point… when the war became real,” Matzen said, calling him “such an optimistic and positive force in the family. He did not believe til the last morning of his life that anything bad was going to happen to him. When it did, it shook the family to the core.”

Ella and Audrey relocated to Velp, where they lived with Audrey’s grandfather, the Baron van Heemstra, and Otto’s widow, Meisje.

Near the end of her stay in Elham, Audrey Hepburn (fourth from left) waves the Union Jack. (Dotti Collection)

“The family bonded together and joined the resistance,” Matzen said. “They did everything they could against the occupation.”

That included refusing an order to join a Nazi artists’ committee, ending Hepburn’s burgeoning dance career, which had made her Arnhem’s most famous ballerina by 1944, Matzen said. Hepburn also assisted a remarkable doctor, Hendrik Visser ‘t Hooft, who helped shelter hundreds of Jews in Velp throughout the war.

“He was instrumental,” Matzen said. “He knew where all the Jews were in Velp. Audrey was involved. She knew some of the things he knew. She was one of the ones [bringing] messages to families protecting Jews. She danced [to raise money] for the resistance, money to feed Jews in hiding. Nobody [wrote about] how enmeshed in the Jewish story she was.”

Audrey Hepburn sits in the hilly Sonsbeek section of Arnhem in February 1942. (Dotti Collection)

The postwar discovery of Anne Frank’s diary added to this story. In an eerie development, when Hepburn and her mother lived in Amsterdam after liberation, their fellow lodger was the editor working on publishing the diary. Hepburn and Frank were born just weeks apart in 1929 — Frank would have celebrated her 90th birthday on June 12 — and both lived in the Netherlands during the war. But Frank was apprehended in 1944 and died at Bergen-Belsen in 1945. Hepburn is quoted in the book describing Frank as a soul sister.

“I believe Audrey felt survivor’s guilt,” Matzen said. “She survived. Anne Frank did not.”

Hepburn also survived the Battle of Arnhem, which left her hometown devastated. The battle marks its 75th anniversary this September; Matzen will travel to Arnhem and Oosterbeek, including the Airborne Museum Hartenstein, for the occasion.

In the wake of Allied defeat, hunger and starvation pervaded the Netherlands, accompanied by explosions from Hitler’s last-ditch weapons, the V-1 and V-2 rockets, all of which the book conveys in excruciating detail.

Liberation brought its own complications. Hepburn became fond of the cigars carried by Allied soldiers and developed erratic eating habits worsened by the rigors of ballet, according to Matzen. The newly-restored Dutch authorities began punishing collaborators and summoned Ella for interrogation; they cleared her after an evaluation, after which mother and daughter eventually left for England, where Hepburn found success not through ballet, but film.

Audrey Hepburn strums a guitar with her costar George Peppard between takes on the set of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ at a film studio in Hollywood on December 7, 1960. (AP Photo)

Hepburn ultimately came to terms with her past. Years after becoming a household name, she took part in public readings of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and served as a UNICEF ambassador, including in war-torn Somalia shortly before her death.

“She had always been affected by children suffering in wars started by adults,” Matzen explained. It is part of the book’s powerful message.

As Matzen said, “here is a woman who, as a girl, experienced horrible things, and channeled them into beauty and positivity, spreading messages of peace and survival.”

‘Her story belonged to all of us’: Hundreds mark 90th birthday of Anne Frank

UNESCO director general addresses gathering in Frankfurt birthplace of teenage Holocaust diarist

Anne Frank, whose diary chronicles her two-year stay at a secret annex in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam with her family and several other Jews during Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. (Wikimedia Commons)

Anne Frank, whose diary chronicles her two-year stay at a secret annex in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam with her family and several other Jews during Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. (Wikimedia Commons)

JTA — Several hundred people gathered at a church in Frankfurt, the city of Anne Frank’s birth, on the occasion of the teenage diarist’s 90th birthday.

The event, organized Wednesday at the iconic St. Paul’s Church by the municipality of the German city and the Basel-based Anne Frank Foundation, featured an address by philosopher Agnes Heller, a Hungarian-Jewish Holocaust survivor who was born one month before Frank.

“She was like one of the relatives and friends I lost, kids killed by the Hungarian Nazi Arrow Cross,” Heller said. “Her story belonged to all of us.”

Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of UNESCO, the United Nations agency for education and heritage, touched on an ongoing debate concerning Anne Frank’s legacy and whether it should be taught as a specifically Jewish story or a universal one.

The diary “is an intimate story of a teenager and that of the Shoah,” Azoulay, who is Jewish, said in a speech at the gathering using the Hebrew-language word for the Holocaust.

Separately, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry criticized German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for a statement on Anne Frank’s birthday that did not mention Jews. Her story, Maas said, is a “warning against discrimination, marginalization and persecution and as a symbol of humanity.”

“Anne Frank’s diary is NOT a warning about wishy washy pseudo universal values!” Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted. “Anne Frank’s legacy is a warning against the hatred and persecution of JEWS. The attempt to ‘universalize the lessons of the Shoah’ is nothing less than a dishonest rewriting of history.”